Our most recent adventure involves a week-long trip exploring more of the SE Queensland coast, and what better way to do it than in a van!
Dave and I have wanted to try van life for a while, and if like us you’re not ready to commit to living full-time in a van, renting one for the week is the perfect way to dip your toes in and see if you like it.
I feel really fortunate to live in such a beautiful part of the world, Queensland is full of natural wonders, and there is so much to see and do; we tend to forget that when something’s right on our own doorstep.
We hired a van on Camplify, a peer-to-peer van and camper rental site. We’ve used Camplify before to hire a motorhome and loved the experience but wanted to go with something a little more compact for this trip.
Banjo came fully equipped with everything we needed to almost completely self-sufficient. The van is solar powered so no need to plug into a campsite. There’s a small fridge, cooker plus a bbq, and a sink with a 20-litre portable water bottle, making it easy to fill up on the go. There’s even a little handheld shower at the back which we loved for rinsing off after swimming at the beach. The bed was comfy, Dave is 6’1 and needed to sleep slightly angled, and with our own pillows and doona, we slept pretty well.
The smaller size van meant it was easy to park in city areas and we had our pick of campsites at the van parks along the way. Waterfront sites are typically reserved for smaller vehicles around 5 meters which was perfect for us. Banjo costs $150 a day to hire and even with the campground fees, it still worked out to be more affordable than staying hotels, and more convenient!
We prebooked all our campsite because there is little free camping along the SE Queensland coast and the van parks book out far in advance.
Our trip took us from home on the Gold Coast up to Rainbow Beach. We bypassed Brisbane and counted the trip as starting on the Sunshine Coast.
Gubbi Gubbi Country stretches from the southern end of the Sunshine Coast to Burrum River in the north, through Gympie and Maryborough regions, spreading out west to the Conondale Ranges and covering the coastal strip of Rainbow Beach.
Wunya Ngulum – welcome everybody
Is it even a road trip if you don’t stop at a roadside servo and order their (apparently) award-winning crab roll? The tourism industry and small towns around Australia have been hit hard this year so we left with an empty fridge planning to shop and eat out along the way.
The Go With Empty Eskies campaign started due to the bushfires encouraging Aussies to take road trips to visit the small towns impacted by the fires, and shopping with local businesses.
With hospitality businesses being shut down for months and border closures across the country, this is still important and I encourage you this summer to visit and support your local small towns. Take a road trip! The Empty Eskies site has some great road trips and maps you can follow.
I was most excited about staying here imaging it to be a tranquil stay and while picturesque, I found this place to be overcrowded and noisy. This could be because it was the weekend and the Queensland borders were not yet open so maybe more locals were travelling. Or maybe it’s just this busy all the time.
They have powered and unpowered sites and glamping tents. We booked a powered site for $55 a night, the unpowered waterfront sites (which were booked out that weekend) are $66 per night. There’s a camp kitchen for cooking, bbq facilities, and clean toilet and shower blocks. There’s also a restaurant and brewery, but we were not told at check-in is that you have to pre-book your table and seating time so we rocked up with an hour wait to get a takeaway dinner.
The campground is set on Lake Cootharaba with the availability to hire kayaks, canoes, and even a small boat for the day. There are also guided boat and walking tours available.
Would I go back? Probably not.
This place is great if you have kids, there’s plenty of space for them to run around and if you’re a parent you’re most likely used to the noise. If like us you’re child-free and want peace and quiet, I’d give this place a miss.
The drive from Noosa to Rainbow Beach was a short one, only 1.5 hours and very scenic driving through the Toolara State Forest.
We came across this field vibrant yellow Coreopsis flowers stretching along the side of the highway. The Cooloola region is known for its diverse array of wildflowers, and we sat amongst the flowers fr about an hour photographing and just watching the hundreds of little honey bees collecting pollen. It was an unexpected discovery and one of my favourite experiences from the trip.
There’s a side road you can pull into to get off the highway and though the field looks tightly packed, there’s plenty of room to walk amongst the flowers without stepping on or crushing them, or disturbing the bees.
Rainbow Beach Holiday Park
We pulled up to our beachfront campsite and breathed in the fresh, salty air.
The Rainbow Beach Holiday Park is blissfully quiet, all you hear is the gentle sounds of the ocean, and it’s centrally located so once you park you can set up your camp space knowing you can walk everywhere. The site was $50 for the night and that park has all the usual amenities, bbq, laundry toilets and, shower block. The staff were so friendly, we immediately felt at home, and I’m glad we booked the two nights. The van park, and the whole town really, is pup-friendly.
We were one of the youngest couples by at least 20 years which did not bother us one bit. The campground was blissfully peaceful and the grey nomad community are incredibly friendly, always up for a chat, and have lots of experience and advice to share. Many had dogs and they were all too happy to let us stop for pats!
Beers and relaxing watching the sunset – make sure you get that beachfront site, it’s worth it!
Swimming at rainbow Beach – it’s a patrolled beach and the surf is quite gentle
We found a fantastic cafe, Little Parliament, which had oat and almond milk available for coffee, and a decent plant-based menu
We’ve visited Fraser Island many times so didn’t go this trip, but if that’s on your to-do list Dingos Fraser organises 4WD tours over to the island
There’s a grocer in town, it’s small but has all the basics and fresh food. There’s also a butcher where we picked up some meat to bbq as a treat, and a 1kg jar of delicious Pomona honey to take home. The second night we ordered a takeaway pizza from Arcobalneo, my mouth is watering remembering how good it was, it’s a must visit!
We spent one morning checking out Carlo Sandblow. It’s about a 15-minute walk through the suburbs from the van park or you could drive, there’s parking at the entrance of the walk.
Carlo Sandblow is a “moonscape” sand mass covering over 15 hectares and overlooks the towering coloured sands and the coastline from Double Island Point to Inskip Peninsula and the southern tip of Fraser Island.
To get there it’s about 600-meter easy walk through the bush. The track is also the entrance to the Great Cooloola Walk, a 5-day scenic walk along the coast if you’re game!
I recommend visiting the sandblow early morning before the sun gets too high, especially from September to March as the sand gets very hot in the spring/summer months. Take water, sunblock and a hat.
We spent about an hour walking around and down to the mouth of the sandblow. Once you reach the edge you have sweeping views of Rainbow Beach, it’s pretty spectacular.
Our last morning in Rainbow Beach we checked out of the van park and went down to Inskip to have a look. Inskip Point has several campgrounds along the coast, some are only suitable for high-clearance vehicles or 4WD, SS Dorigo and MV Sarawak sites looked to be ok for campers and motorhomes, we saw many of them in both those sites. Due to Covid, the Cooloola State Forrest has limits on the number of people visiting so be sure to get a permit.
After driving right up to the point, we doubled back and found an empty car park right on the beach and decided to spend a few hours there for breakfast and a swim. We had the beach completely to ourselves, it was bliss. You can’t camp here but it’s a lovely spot if you want to pull up for the day to relax and swim.
A quick visit to see the family in Gin Gin
We took an overnight trip to Gin Gin to visit Dave’s parents, they live on a small acreage in the middle of the bush so we had plenty of room to park up the van, enjoy the company and the peacefulness of the country. It was mums birthday so we convinced her to be young and wild before she turns 60 and climb up on the roof of the van.
Before we started the drive back down south, I stopped into town to visit A Crafty Male, secondhand book heaven. If we weren’t on a drive schedule, I could have spent hours browsing. I picked up five books, including a few titles I’ve had on my wishlist for a while, for $12.
Back on the road, we had a lunch stop in Maryborough – if you have time to shop the main street of Maryborough is home to at least five op-shops and antique stores. Next stop Rainbow Beach again, we decided to spend another night here, the campsite was great and it was the perfect place to spend the rest of the day lounging and reading the new (old) books.
To get to Noosa North Shore you take a car ferry across the river. There’s no need to book, the ferry crosses every 10 minutes, make sure you have cash for the ticket, it’s $16 each way for campervans.
A short drive through bush and we reached our absolute beachfront campsite Noosa North Shore Campground, for $46 for the night. It’s part of the Cooloola National Park but you won’t need a permit unless you plan to camp at Teewah Beach, which is only accessible by 4WD.
The campground is basic so make sure you bring everything you need as there no shops close by. Facilities wise, there are two toilets servicing the beachfront campground we stayed in, further down near the entrance there is also a camp kitchen. Showers are outdoor cold showers by the beach, which suited us fine.
The campsites are generously sized with plenty of room between you and your neighbours and the beach is a minute walk away. The beach is not patrolled and deep ocean swimming is not encouraged, the swell was fairly gentle that day and we’re both good swimmers, but still, we kept to wading waist-deep to be safe. This was definitely our other favourite site to stay, and being close to the Gold Coast we’ll be coming back for weekend trips.
After parking up, we settled in with a cheese platter and a bottle of red and watched the sun go down over the coast while the kangaroos grazed in front of us. We had no wine glasses but discovered keep cups make an excellent alternative!
A quick ferry ride back over to the mainland. our last stop of the trip was the Noosa River Holiday Park, this one was $50 a night and right on the Noosa River. You can swim in the river but stick close to shore as it’s quite busy with boats at all times of the day. We had an afternoon dip with the pelicans looking on.
It’s about 15-minute drive to Noosa Heads where you’ll find the central shopping and restaurant district. There are dozens of restaurants Hastings Street, you’re spoilt for choice if you want to go out to eat. We had an early start so opted for a quiet night in the van and cooked our last meal in our home on wheels.
Noosa Headland Walk + Fairy Pools
The next morning we woke up at 4am to catch the sunrise and do the Noosa Headland walk. It’s worth the early start I promise!
There’s beachfront parking at Little Cove and being so early it was empty save for a few vans with the same idea as us. We fueled up with breakfast on the beach before starting the walk.
The coastal walk is a 1o kilometre return walk, it begins with a path for about 2 kilometres then becomes a dirt track. It’s a fairly easy walk punctuated with lookouts and small beach inlets and plenty of places to stop along the way.
We went as far as the Fairy Pools. about halfway along the track. The Fairy Pools are tidal pools best visited at low tide if you want to swim in them. We arrived around 5:30 am, and by 6:30 when we left, there were half a dozen people with more arriving by the minute, If your plan is to have a tranquil swim or tale photos, get in early!
I recommend a stop at Tea Tree Beach on the way back, it’s a private beach with mostly surfers and the perfect spot to have a picnic and relax with a book.
After our morning swim, we began the drive home to drop the van off. While van life is not something I’d like to do long term, I loved our week-long adventure and would definitely do it again!
Kira Simpson is an environmentalist and sustainability expert. She started The Green Hub as a blog in 2015, which has since grown to become one of Australia’s largest education sites dedicated to helping people live a more sustainable lifestyle.